Farrell


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The roots of the Old Gaelic name Fearghail are fear, meaning "man," and gal "valor," hence man of valor.  The original Fearghail from whom the O'Fearghails have claimed descent was slain by the Danes at the battle of Clondarf in 1014.  His great grandfather Anghaile gave his name to the territory that they possessed, Annaly in county Longford.

It was not until later that O'Fearghail was anglicized to O'Farrell and later Farrell.  The first record of an O'Farrell was Father Richard O'Farrell of Annaly in the early 1600's.

Farrell is the many spelling today.  The main variants are Ferrell and Farrall.

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Ireland.  The Farrell clan committee has sponsored three booklets which cover Ferrell clan history:
  • Farrell Clan: A Brief History, by Hugh Farrell
  • The O'Farrells of Morrnin Castle, by Jimmy Lennon
  • and The Ferrell Clan in Europe, by Stephen Collins.
The base for the clan was county Longford in the Irish midlands.  The O'Ferghaills appeared often in The Annals of the Four Masters, in part because of their conflicts with the English in Meath. The clan chief, known as the Lord of Annaly, was resident at Longphuirt Ui Fhearghaill (meaning O'Farrell's fortress), the place which gave its name to the town and county of Longford.   There were in fact two branches of the sept, one chief being named O'Farrell Boy (from buidhe meaning "yellow") and the other O'Farrell Ban (from bane "white" or "fair").

Things came tumbling down in the 17th century.   It began with the land confiscations of 1614:

"In the county of Longford, twenty five of one sept alone (the O'Farrells) were deprived of their estates without any compensation whatever, or any means of subsistence assigned them."

There was a period of resistance in the 1640's under Colonel Richard O'Farrell which was finally stamped out by Cromwell.  By 1659, after he had finished, there were but 17 O'Farrell families in Longford town and 23 in nearby Moydow.  The final vanquishing came with William's victory over James in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  Many O'Farrells fled then to fight in the service of foreign armies, part of the so-called "Wild Geese." 

Penal restrictions in Ireland followed, interrupted by occasional violence.  William Farrell has left a dramatic eyewitness account of the 1798 Rebellion in Carlow which he lived through.  Matters stabilized in the 19th century and many Farrells returned to Longford.  The Griffiths Valuations in the 1850's showed a Farrell concentration in Longford, spilling over into neighboring counties.  There was, in addition, a sizeable Farrell contingent in Dublin.  James Farrell was a leading Dublin brewer.  And an O'More Ferrall line had begun in Dublin after Richard Ferrall married Letitia O'More.   

In the 19th century, after English pressure, Farrell had displaced O'Farrell as the family surname.  After independence, there was a revival in the use of the O'Farrell name.   Today about 15% are O'Farrells.  The main numbers of Farrells and O'Farrells are in Dublin and Longford. 

England.  Many Farrells crossed the Irish Sea to industrial Lancashire in the 19th century.  J.G. Farrell, born in Liverpool, won the Booker Prize in 1973 for his novel The Siege of Krishnapur and had a promising literary future.  Unfortunately he died young, washed into the sea by a freak wave while fishing in county Cork.

Caribbean.  The name made it to the Caribbean as Farrill.  The first of the line was Richard Farrill from Longford who appeared in Montserrat as an indentured servant in the 1670's.  These Farrills were later to be found in the Leeward Islands.

America.  Both Ferralls and Farrells exist in America, although Farrells outnumber Ferrells by approximately two to one.

Ferrell  However, Ferrell may be the older line.  There appear to have been Ferrells in Maryland befiore 1700.  There were later clusters in Virginia, West Virginia, and across into Kentucky and Tennessee and moving south.

Farrell  That does not mean that Farrells or even O'Farrells were not seen here.  Charles O'Farrell from Virginia, for instance, was a Confederate cavalry colonel and later a Virginia legislator.  Edward O'Farrell appeared in the census records of Alabama as early as 1830.  And one Farrell family history traces itself back to Michael Farrell from Longford who arrived in the 1830's and settled in West Virginia.  However, the Farrells and O'Farrells in America were mostly to be found around the main 19th century immigration points - New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.  

Heading West  Some did make it west.  Jasper O'Farrell came to California in 1843 while it was still Mexican territory.  He became the first surveyor of San Francisco and designed the grand promenade that is now Market Street.

Another arrival at that time, after a life spent at sea, was John O'Farrell.  He sought gold in California and Colorado and then settled in Boise, Idaho.  He cleared land there in 1863 and built a single-room cabin for himself and his young wife.  This cabin, thought to be the first family house in Boise, has recently been restored to its original condition. 

20th Century  Two resplendent Farrells of the 20th century have been the writer James Farrell and the singer Eileen Farrell:
  • James Farrell's grandparents had immigrated from Ireland and the family had finally settled in Chicago. He became a best-selling writer in the 1930's with his Studs Lonigan trilogy on the Irish working community in Chicago.  
  • Eileen Farrell, who came from an Irish vaudeville background, blossomed through the medium of radio as a much-loved popular and classical singer.  
Argentina.  The majority of the Irish who emigrated to Argentina in the early to mid 1800's came from the Longford/Westmeath counties in Ireland.  They included a number of Farrells.  Santiago O'Farrell was a well-known lawyer, politician, and Irish community leader in Buenos Aires in the early 1900's.  Edelmiro Julian Farrell, who briefly became President of Argentina in the 1940's, was the grandson of immigrant Matthew Farrell from Longford.    

Australia.
   First came convicts.  The earliest seem to have come from England, Philip Farrell from London on the First Fleet and Lydia Farrell from the Midlands (who later married Sergeant Robert Higgins) in 1792.

Among the Irish convicts, George Farrell helped led an unsuccessful rebellion in 1833 against the inhuman conditions on Norfolk island.  James Farrell (from Dublin) and Dominick Farrell (from Leitrim) arrived later and served out their sentences.   James became a gold prospector, Dominick a wealthy squatter.

Amomg Irish settlers in Australia were:
  • Andrew and Mary Farrell who had emigrated during the Famine in Ireland to Buenos Aires.  Later they sailed for Australia where the family farmed and went into brewing.  Their son John became a journalist with The Sydney Daily Telegraph.    
  • another Irish immigrant, DS Farrell, started a haulage business in Sydney in the 1860's.  His grandson Greg teamed up with maverick businessman Gordon Barton to expand into trucking, hotels, casinos and tourism. The Farrell family now owns one of the largest family-run companies in Australia and Greg junior one of its premier horse-stud farms.   
  • and also from an Irish immigrant family in the 1860's, this time into Victoria, is the new premier of New South Wales, Barry O'Farrell.
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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:


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Fearghail from whom the Farrell clan claim descent died in the early 1000's.
Sir Thomas Farrell was a noted sculptor in Dublin in the late 1800's.
James Farrell rose to become President of US Steel in 1911.
James T. Farrell, born of an Irish-American family in Chicago, was a best-selling writer of the 1930's with his Studs Lonigan trilogy.
Edelmiro Julian Farrell was the Argentine President who brought General Peron into political power in the 1940's.
Eileen Farrell is a much-loved American popular and classical singer of the mid-20th century.
Suzanne Farrell is a leading 20th century American ballerina.  She was born Roberta Sue Ficker in Cincinnati.
Colin Farrell is a budding Irish and Hollywood actor.

Select Farrells Today
  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in New York).
  • 41,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).



PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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